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Room For Manoeuvre


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Israel & Palestine / CONCLUSION


Breaking into a dialogue of the deaf isn’t
easy, but Richard Swift finds some spaces.

Design from a t-shirt on sale in Jerusalem's Old City.

The current Zionist paradigm in Israel is wound just too tight. In fact, many Israeli activists and intellectuals now identify themselves as 'post-Zionists' in protest. The position of Israel in the world is a good deal more secure than it was in 1948. This despite suicide bombers and Ariel Sharon's periodic pronouncements about 'backs to the wall'. Israel has one of the largest and most efficient militaries in the region. It has nuclear capability - the famous 'bomb in the basement'. It has the unflinching support of the world's only superpower. It could afford to bend a little. Apologize for the injustices done to refugees created when Israel was formed. Give the land captured in 1967 back to the Palestinians who live there. Make Jerusalem the open, cosmopolitan city it deserves to be - a capital for both Israel and Palestine. But it will take a wrenching political struggle that cuts to Israel's very core to make this possible. The tension is caught by two pieces of Hebrew graffiti I ran across: on the walls of East Jerusalem it's 'Kill Arabs' and on the streets of downtown Tel Aviv it's 'The occupation is blowing up in our faces'. The outlines of a proper peace are there for anyone to see - if they are not blinkered by hatred, self-righteousness and mistrust. The arguments are still caught in an repeating loop of unanswered questions:

'But what about the suicide bombings?' 'But what about the occupation?' 'But what about the suicide bombings?' 'But what about the occupation?' 'But what about anti-Semitism?' 'But what about our land?' 'But what about anti-Semitism?' 'But what about our land?' 'But what about Yassir Arafat?' 'But what about Ariel Sharon?' 'But what about Yassir Arafat?' 'But what about Ariel Sharon?' 'But what about our security?' 'But what about our security?'

And so it goes on, the dialogue of the deaf...eventually of the dead. But there are the ingredients of hope here. Look at the opinion polls. In Palestine a large majority is in favour of suicide bombings in order to resist the occupation; a smaller majority, but still a majority, is in favour of living in peace with Israel under the Saudi proposal for withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. In Israel a near majority is in favour of 'transfer', the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank; a clear majority is in favour of giving up the bulk of the settlements and occupied land for peace. In both cases, some people must be expressing both views. There is room for manoeuvre, if there were those who wanted to use it.

In Israel a peace movement is slowly awakening and hardening its opposition to the Sharon agenda. The size of demonstrations, the number of anti-war groups, the growing chorus of dissenting voices are - not, unfortunately, reflected much in the Jewish diaspora. In Palestine the overwhelming sense is that 'this is no way to live'. This should not be mistaken for 'giving up'; the Palestinians will never leave of their own accord. But it does signal a willingness to change. Discontent over the autocracy and corruption of Yassir Arafat's regime and the cries for real reform are gathering testimony to that.

It will take international action to create a context for the possibilities  to mature. A rejection of both anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. a resistance to George Bush's know-nothing policies... a commitment to Israel's secure survival once withdrawal has taken place... an encouragement of democracy in Palestine - not the feeble democracy of capitulation but a robust democracy on which an independent and tolerant society can be built.

Most importantly, it will take the best traditions of both peoples. The endurance, political savvy and openness to the outside world that will allow Palestinians to resist both fundamentalism and autocracy. The universalism of Jewish culture - the cutting edge of Enlightenment free-thinking, from Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud to Rosa Luxembourg and Hannah Arendt - that can form the basis of resistance to sterile tribalism.

[image, unknown]
Photo: Richard Swift

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New Internationalist issue 348 magazine cover This article is from the August 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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